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Lincoln City Tribal State Summit

Lincoln City Tribal State Summit
November 15, 2011

Thank you, Chair Pigsley, for the kind introduction, and to your tribe, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, for generously hosting this event.

I am very honored to be back here participating in the 2011 annual tribal state summit.  Oregon law requires that the Governor convene an annual meeting where representatives of state agencies and tribes may work together to achieve mutual goals.  While this summit is required by law it is far more than a statutory obligation to me.  It is a personal obligation and commitment to advance the government to government relationship between the state and our tribes, a relationship that I am proud to have helped set in motion fifteen years ago.

Looking around the room, I see many familiar faces.  We have worked together on many issues over the years and I hope that we have come to know each other as partners and friends.  I also see many new faces today and I look forward to meeting and working with all of you.

The goal of this year's summit is to reflect on Executive Order 96-30, which I signed 15 years ago.  I look forward to hearing from each of the tribal chairs on your tribes’ perspectives on what should have been accomplished with this executive order, and a critical assessment of close we have come and how far we have to go.

To begin, I wanted to share with you some of my own thoughts I had at the time of signing the order. 

When I first took office, it was apparent that there was no formalized relationship between the state of Oregon and our tribal nations.  We only came together when we were forced to, and this was usually involving issues that were adversarial or contentious.  This was an unproductive way to interact, and it was a way that did not fully respect the tribal sovereignty of our tribal partners.

Executive order 96-30 was a way to formalize and establish a relationship at a government to government level, one which recognized the tribes not as mere stakeholders but as sovereign and equal governments.  We all knew this would take time but here were some of my hopes at the time I issued the order:

First and foremost, my hope was that the state and the tribes could get beyond the issue of the day and establish a solid relationship - one which was based on mutual respect and trust.  This relationship would then form the backdrop of the difficult conversations around areas where we disagree.  We may disagree, we may take different positions, but at the end of the day, we would still have a relationship that is important to us to respect and maintain. 

I think the best way this could be demonstrated is by the state and the tribes reaching a point where we interacted early on issues where we may be headed into disagreement, before things reached any formal adversarial position.

To that end, it was my direction that state agencies did their part by engaging with the tribes proactively when they were developing policies that impacted them.  For example, I expected state agencies to reach out to tribal partners when undertaking projects that touched tribal land or cultural resources.  I expected state agencies to consult with the tribes when developing policies that impact the tribes' own policies, programs and people, such as in the areas of natural resources, education, health care and human services.  This type of early outreach would help mitigate future disputes and would respect the tribes’ sovereignty and role as a partner government.

Second, it was my hope that over time, this would become a relationship that not only helped us through the divergent issues but one that could bring us together.  It was my hope that the state and tribes could find opportunities to partner when we identify issues in common.  We all have similar responsibilities to provide for the health and prosperity of our people in challenging economic times.  Coming together to find creative and collaborative solutions will only advance the lives of all Oregonians.

Now that fifteen years have passed, we can look back and see how we have done.

I think we all realize that the relationship does not always work perfectly, but I hope you will agree that there has been vast improvement in the last fifteen years.  I wanted to share some of my own observations about how the relationship has developed.

I understand that in many regards started from a place of mistrust.  When we ask tribal governments to build a relationship with the state, that relationship is viewed through the lens of the past.  This past includes the very dark past of the tribes’ treatment by the state and the United States government.  Trust is not something that is easy to earn after such a tragic past. 

Therefore, I think our early success was probably more symbolic than concrete.  In order for the relationship to work, there really needed to be a rebuilding of that trust and respect for tribes as sovereign governments.  As a state, we really weren’t there yet.  We had a lot of education to do at every level of government, and the first couple of years were devoted to that education.  Just having the executive order define tribes as sovereigns, and changing our vocabulary, understanding and attitude towards our tribes was a symbolic yet important success.  This was even more pronounced when the Legislature codified that government to government relationship and respect for tribal sovereignty into Oregon law in 2001.

Over the years, I think we have been able to move from a more symbolic success to concrete examples of success.

I have seen a number of examples where the tribe has approached the state early with a potential concern about an agency action and its impact on tribes where we have been able to avoid a conflict.  Particularly in the area of natural resources, I have seen some great examples of collaborative projects between the state and the tribes who have an equally strong sense of commitment to protect our lands.

I have also seen examples where state agencies have acted without the appropriate level of input from the tribes and that is something that we must address.  I think some of the more difficult areas of interaction have been around health care and education.  For example, I have seen a lot of confusion around how tribal health care programs interact with state agencies that provide similar or same services, and added confusion around the federal government’s role.  I think that it is crucial that as we move forward, we rethink these relationships and whether we are operating on a model that makes sense for the tribes, the State and the federal government.

I have also seen at times a disconnect between the people on the ground working with tribes, who see the impact of the state’s policies, and the leadership of state agencies making state policies.  It is critical that the government to government relationship is respected and maintained at all levels – that is one of the reasons we wanted this summit to bring agency heads to the table to hear how state policy impacts tribes on the ground.

One of the things that was posed for this session was to identify a dream or wish that I have that would improve the government to government relationship.  In thinking about this, the one thing that I would hope that we can all continue to do is to work hard to identify issues that are common to all of your tribes and the State that we can work together on.  I would like to think that last session’s passage of Senate Bill 412 is an example of how meaningful and productive that type of collaboration can be.  I was proud to play a small part in that effort which truly improved the lives of all of our citizens.  It is my hope that through this summit and ongoing collaboration among our governments, we will have many more successes like 412.

In wrapping up my opening remarks, I will leave you with this thought.  The executive order is a mere document.  Its words are meaningless if they are not being followed or if they have become obsolete.  I am looking forward to hearing from you about whether the words are being honored or whether they are obsolete.  I think it is important to acknowledge that our relationship is dynamic—always growing and changing.  And I would encourage us to look at whether the executive order needs to be refreshed or revised to more accurately reflect where our relationship is today.

Again it is my distinct honor to be here today and to learn how we can continue and improve the relationships we have today.  I am particularly excited about the afternoon work sessions where I hope the state and the tribes and local governments can come up with some concrete ideas for future success stories.  I unfortunately cannot stay for the work sessions, but am sure that my staff, agency heads and other agency representatives will be valuable contributors to these conversations.


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